They cut down the old oak tree today. It was an enormous tree. One of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
I was on my walking route when I heard the chainsaws running. I stood by the curb and watched the young worker crawl up the trunk and take it down from top to bottom.
They scaled it like trapeze artists, swinging from limbs with chainsaws strapped over their shoulders.
There was an old man by the street, with his dog on a leash. He was watching. He was stock still.
“That tree’s been here a long time,” he said. “It was here since my parents were babies.”
“You know this tree?”
He nodded. “My mother grew up beneath that tree. She rocked me to sleep underneath that tree when I was born. We used to live in this house. A long, long time ago.”
Another nod. “Used to sit underneath that tree with my grandparents. They used to visit us all the time. My granddaddy showed me how to polish my own shoes under that tree. Do kids still polish their shoes?”
“No, sir. I don’t think they do.”
He smiles mournfully. “Well, we used to. My granddaddy was a World-War-I guy, kept his shoes polished to a mirror finish. He’s dead now.”
The old man sighed.
“Granddaddy only came to one of my baseball games in his whole life, because he grew up in Walker County. He was from the country. He grew up hard, he didn’t even know how baseball was played.”
The top of the tree fell. The green wood cracked loudly. And I could not help but feel like the world was losing something important.
The young treemen were attacking the fallen logs with chainsaws as though the logs had insulted their mother.
“A rope swing used to hang on that tree,” said the old man. My mom used to swing on it. My last memory of her is swinging on that swing before she died.”
“How’d she die?”
“Pneumonia. Always had lung problems. The pneumonia finally took her.”
“Yeah. Long time ago.”
Another section of the mighty oak fell. The old man winced when the enormous trunk hit the earth with a hard impact.
I am perplexed why homeowners in Birmingham are always cutting down enormous, 150-year-old, healthy trees. Is it an aesthetic thing? Do some people just hate trees? If so, maybe these people should consider moving to, say, the Sahara desert.
This month alone, I have counted five gigantic local trees that have been cut down. It makes no sense.
“When I was in high school,” he said, “my date met me beneath that tree.”
“Is that right?”
“She was from a rich family. I was kinda poor. I was so nervous. I wore a hand painted tie, and my shoes were shined up good.”
The young men cut another section of the tree. The tree was only half stature now.
“I treated my date like she was the queen of England herself. She wore a white dress, with all sorts of pink flowers on it. I gave her a corsage. I put in on her. She put one on me. We felt so grown up. So adult.”
“How did the prom go?”
He smiled. “I married her.”
“You have any kids?”
“Three. I used to take them for walks to see this tree.”
Finally the owner of the home approached us. He was a young man. He came out of his home, wearing an asymmetrical modern haircut. He wore modern clothes.
He saw us standing by the curb, and he evidently didn’t like us standing there.
“Can I help you?” said the owner.
“Why are you cutting down that old tree?” said the old man gently.
The young man looked at the old man with a smirk. The young man was either amused by this question, or really ticked off. It was hard to tell which.
“I cut this tree down because it’s mine,” the young man spat. “I can do whatever I want. It’s my [expletive] house.”
The old man nodded. He smiled politely. He apologized for making the kid so angry.
The young man cordially asked us to get off his lawn.
I saw the old man walk away with his dog. But he looked shorter, somehow.
Toni B - May 13, 2023 5:25 am
I’m with you, Sean. Damn shame that 150 years of memories fell today – for no good reason that I can see. And might I add, I hope that angry young man gets warts.
stephenpe - May 13, 2023 8:38 am
This is Florida. Things we remembered are disappearing faster than wine at an end of the year party for teachers. This song explains it to a T.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
Sad story, Sean but the optimism of the school for sight and hearing impaired made up for it…….
Liz - May 13, 2023 11:26 am
Very sad…shame on him
Hawk - May 13, 2023 11:59 am
More than a tree was lost that day, Sean. What was lost has been turning to sawdust for over a generation. It’s called respect. Respect for the tree AND the old man. The peaceful serenity of gazing up at an ancient tree is like looking at the cover of a history book. Respectfully listening to our elders recite the book has turned to sawdust in the wind.
Richard Owen - May 13, 2023 1:16 pm
Sad commentary on today’s youth.
Sissy Lingle - May 13, 2023 2:12 pm
This is so sad! Thank goodness we have tree ordinances here on the GA coast mostly to save the Live Oaks. My dad landscaped a lot of this area before some of the roads were laid out and he curved them around the trees. I have been a “tree hugger” all my life and stopped some carnage once when I lived in FL, through calling Florida Power to complain. I hope a tree limb falls on that guy some day.
Janet Bowman - May 13, 2023 2:15 pm
Seems like the young owner is the small one. Bless his heart.
Sissy Lingle - May 13, 2023 2:20 pm
That is so sad, Sean! Thank goodness we have tree ordinances here on the GA coast, mainly to save the Live Oaks. My dad was a landscaper in the area back when there were few paved roads. The roads he laid out are curved around the trees. I have always been a “tree hugger” and once saved some on the neighbor’s fence line by calling off Florida Power’s tree choppers. I hope a tree limb falls on that guy one day. Sorry, but that is how I feel. (Forgive me Lord).
Cathy M - May 13, 2023 3:09 pm
The removal of the tree was sad enough but the behavior of the home owner is worse and makes VI me furious. If I thought one of my adult children or grandchildren spoke to anyone, esp. an elderly person, I would dress them down and pinch the fat part of their arm until they cried. As my parents used to say to my brothers and me, when y’all misbehave it is a poor reflection on us. I am appalled by the lack of respect in todays world. Respect for our country, for our first responders and yes, for Senior citizens. There is absolutely no excuse for rudeness. Period! The end! I am now going to take my blood pressure meds. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who follow you Sean and May I say to your young followers, teach your children well. It speaks volumes about their raising
pattymack43 - May 13, 2023 6:17 pm
So much of what was good and beautiful from times past is being lost in these busy high tech times. I do mourn all that is being kicked to the curb to go out with the trash. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Fortunately, they can’t cut down the memories in my heart. Thank you for today’s writing, Sean. Blessings…
Caroline - May 13, 2023 8:14 pm
Sean, whenever I hear the chain saw my heart cries. I don’t think anybody can own a tree. They are God’s gift to all of us humans and animals. So sad that many people can’t see the joy they provide. That home owner certainly didn’t plant that tree!
Marianne Sheridan - May 13, 2023 10:15 pm
Heart breaking…not only the tree, but the disrespect of that young man to his elders.
SUE OSTERHOLD - May 13, 2023 11:57 pm
There should be a law.
Against cutting down old trees.
Against arrogant youth that don’t understand the importance of history.
You can’t fix stupid.